Can Conservatives and Scientists Get Along?

August 2nd, 2011 at 12:24 am | 42 Comments |

| Print

Last week, Chris Mooney, science blogger and author of The Republican War on Science, asked David Frum to come on the “Point of Inquiry” podcast to discuss conservatives and science, and David was kind enough to ask that I be included in the conversation. The interview can now be found online here.

The discussion was wide-ranging, dealing with topics including global warming, evolution, vaccines, nuclear power, light bulbs, John Edwards, postmodernism and more. Mooney, who describes his own political views as liberal, showed an interest in discussing not just conservatism’s foibles regarding science but what blind spots the leftward side of the political spectrum may have on such matters.

Among other things, we looked at a bit of history, showing that the right’s relations with the scientific community were not always as fraught as they are today. Consider, for instance, this 1988 speech by President Ronald Reagan warning that budget pressures threaten the federal government’s role in funding basic research — “one of the most practical things government does,” as Reagan asserted.

Download the “Point of Inquiry” podcast and let us know what you think.

Recent Posts by Kenneth Silber



42 Comments so far ↓

  • Anonne

    Sure they can, so long as the scientists are properly paid to parrot the party line. Just like the economists.

    • Raskolnik

      Obvious troll is obvious.

      Great discussion, and Mr. Silber adds much to it. A brief quote:

      “While the scientific evidence for evolution is overwhelming, we should not [necessarily] then extrapolate into some particular set of political and philosophical positions based on that, such as atheism or adherence to ‘Evolutionary Psychology.’”

      Really, it’s worth listening to the whole excellent discussion. Thanks again Kenneth!

  • zahnartz62

    The proposed idea that the Bible is literal and objectively true is threatened by critics such as scientists and me. Parts of the Old Testament are historical, parts are incoherent and contradictory. Its value is in the Wisdom and inspirational beauty. Parts were/are used by clergy in America to justify slavery and hatred of Gays. Scientists and dreadful people like me criticize the assumption of objective Biblical reality and view it as subjective reality..valuble myth and instruction. Therefore, the credibility of critics has to be destroyed to prop up the silly notion of inerrancy. That accounts for the accounts on scientists and the pols editing their findings.
    Having said all that, how can I as a practicing, faithful (most Sundays) Episcopalian? The God of the New Testament is a different one and the message of Jesus Christ contradicts all the terrible villany of the Old Testament. Also, I think Cristianity is be exercised on a daily basis and is not merely intellectual belief (which is pointless as Christ’s message is about maturing and developing our character). So I have no conflict with Evolution. I do think the innerant Bible notion is merely a club and a marketing tool. The Evangelical support of the Republicans requires the party to attack the very people we need today more than ever to address the coming crisis in overpopulation and environmental disaster. So I respect and marvel over our international scientific community as far more important than those citizens of my country who embarras me with their Bible creationism and attacks on my fellow citizens..including my twin Gay sons, whom I love very much and accepted their condition as biologic.
    I was a Republican for decades, now 74 and a retired dentist..where did they go? I see many crazies and losers, such as Palin, being called Republicans. My poor, dear country…one of my sons said he wished he was as old as I. So I leave the Old Testament to our Jewish Brothers, concentrate on the New, go to mass, embrace evolution and think of that famous quote by Mahama Ghandi when he was asked what he thought of Christianity..Oh, he said, it is a wonderful religion..the pity is there are so few of them!! Now, I just hope my Rector does not see my comments..but then he might agree.

    • balconesfault

      Nicely put – although I will add that there is considerable discussion within the Jewish community over the “Old Testament”, includes volumes and volumes of Talmudic commentary. Anyone expecting the mainstream Jewish community to be biblical literalists will be severely disappointed.

      Also worth noting that the Pope has declared that former Catholic opposition to evolutionary teachings was wrong.

  • NRA Liberal

    Michael Lind had an excellent article recently in Salon about the merging of the concerns of evangelicals and free market libertarians. Once two separate strains of the GOP, these streams have become one. People whose main concern was always Roe v Wade are now staunch Austrians in their economic views. There’s a unified worldview having opposition to government, liberalism and secular culture in general at the core, a powerful and cohesive message.

    If you look at the Tea Party, it’s mainly driven by church going suburbanites in the Bachmann mould. I attended an “anti ground zero mosque” rally a couple years ago—and it was totally run by abortion protestors.

    Long story short, the Christian Right owns the modern radical GOP lock stock and barrel. There’s no room for science which contradicts the Bible.

    Fortunately, scientifically-inclined free marketers can find a ready home on the right wing of today’s Democratic Party.

    • Elvis Elvisberg

      Why do you way the “right wing” of the Democratic Party, NRA Liberal? As a Dem under 40, I’ve never seen any hostility to the free market or to science from the mainstream of the party. It’s not like Bill Clinton was out there expropriating property and pushing to return to Eisenhower’s income tax rates or anything.

      • balconesfault

        Elvis – you missed his point. Which was that even those who interpret “free market” as “get government out of my wallet” can find common ground on the right wing of the Democratic Party, while not having to embrace an anti-scientific worldview as a litmus test for being accepted.

        And make no mistake – I think that’s what it’s all about. A litmus test. Rejecting certain scientific principles has become for GOP candidates akin to the first hit for a goodfellow.

        Once you’ve come out and publicly disputed evolution, or climate change, or the idea that escatology shouldn’t play a part in planning America’s future, you’re now a “Made Man”, damned to have that rejection of science a permanent part of your legacy … and therefore committed to forever waging the war against science as a part of maintaining your political relevance.

  • Graychin

    “Can Conservatives and Scientists Get Along?”

    In a word – no.

    The “conservative” agenda for “global warming, evolution, vaccines, nuclear power, (and) light bulbs” is based on ideology, not science.

    Facts are the enemy of today’s Republican Party. It insists on creating its own alternate reality.

  • Oldskool

    Did they cover the origin of the right’s hostility to science? Who decided to make it almost a part of the goper platform? Lee Atwater maybe? Or does it go farther back.

    When and why did the goper party decide to actively encourage ignorance? I think it was chosen as a tactic in the late 1970s but I’ve forgotten the evil geniuses behind it.

    • zahnartz62

      They were courting the Psycho Religio Fascist Pat Robertson around 1988 when I became a Right Wing Demo now a Right Wing Independent. Undermining the credibility of Objective Realists is necessary as they wish to have the Subjective Bible declared Objectively real and inerrent..that turns off and away many in our culture who might otherwise see the Beauty in the message of Jesus Christ. I don’t blame those people as that style of religion has nothing to do with our spiritual nature and everything to do with political domination and even Dictatorship..as we seem to be running parallel with Ancient Rome.

      • Oldskool

        I remember the Silent Majority morphing into the Moral Majority in the late 70′s, early 80′s. Someone wrote a descriptive timeline several years ago but the details escape me.

  • roesch

    Religious fundamentalist have contributed little to science these last one hundred years as most of the thinkers and scientist sprung from a secular humanist background. In the future it will be even more the case as scientist from India and China, who now fill our graduate schools, will continue to make major advancements, while the Republicans sit on research funding in this country.

  • IntelliWriter

    Conservatives should be forced to give up some of the modern conveniences science affords us like antibiotics, microwaves, electricity, and cars (to name a few). They can live like the Amish. I predict a turnaround in attitudes in about 48 hours…after they find their way out of the fields and brush.

  • LFC

    Can conservatives and scientists get along? Yes. Both grasp that you are not entitled to your own facts and reality trumps everything.

    Can today’s Republicans and scientists get along? Not a chance. The latter deal in facts, the former in fantasy.

  • JimBob

    Conservatives aren’t at war with science. They are at war with things like the global warming canard. Or idiots that want to tell us what sort of light bulbs to buy!

    • LFC

      That’s the equivalent of saying you’re not at war with some country, you’re just killing its people.

    • gocart mozart

      JimBob is exhibit A in why conservatives are anti-science.

    • Houndentenor

      …or teaching evolution in science and forcing religion into the science textbooks.

    • Chris Balsz

      What weather pattern would disprove Anthromorphic Global Warming exists?

      • Farast

        Easy Chris. Global Warming would be disproved if there was a statistically significant reduction in global temperatures. Equally CO2 as the cause of AGW would be disproven if somebody came up with an coherent explanation for global temperatures that performed better than current theories at explaining temperature change.

  • HereInVA

    The exclusionary terms are curious. “Scientists” believe in evolution. If you don’t, then you’re not a scientist but rather you’re backward, bigoted, narrow minded, prejudiced, living in fantasy, ignorant, etc. It’s trite, cute, funny, but I’m not sure reflects an unbiased approach.

    There’s numerous people with science degrees who debate and discuss creation / evolution. It almost seems circular to say “Scientists believe in evolution. How do we know someone’s a scientist? Because they believe in evolution.”

    The supposed Republican war on science is just as likely a war on why Republican scientists won’t just come to the light and agree with Democrat scientists. The supposed Republican war on science is just as likely a statement that many Republicans find “overwhelming” evidence either inconclusive, or they’re waiting for it to change — as it seems to every 10 years or so, or they don’t think the evidence is cataclysmic enough to warrant severe limitations on freedom and liberty. In a classroom, if a class of students doesn’t get the point does the teacher walk out and say they’re living in fantasy and a bunch of inbred ignoramuses or instead say he/she is the one who’s a bad teacher and not doing a good job on the evidence.

    Many people hold passionately and steadfastly to things that they can’t understand why others don’t. Calling names and belittling those who don’t agree as being somehow mentally challenged doesn’t work from my view.

    • balconesfault

      In a classroom, if a class of students doesn’t get the point does the teacher walk out and say they’re living in fantasy and a bunch of inbred ignoramuses or instead say he/she is the one who’s a bad teacher and not doing a good job on the evidence.

      Sorry – that dog doesn’t bark.

      This isn’t a case of students being unable to grasp what the teacher is saying.

      This is a case of students being unwilling to grasp what the teacher is saying, since they perceive that it conflicts with their theology.

      If a teacher writes “2+2=4″ on the board, and a student declares “I’m sorry – I don’t believe in 4″ … there’s not much left except for the teacher to give up.

      • HereInVA

        My point exactly. Some think their beliefs are so simple the people who don’t grasp them must be not just ignorant but willfully ignorant. Not the best starting point for discussion.

        Do people use this as a fear that their ideas may not be right? It makes it easier on me if I label people who disagree with me as just being petty and foolish or are too stupid to understand the wisdom and rationality of my ideas. I don’t have to rethink what I believe or re-examine it since I’ve labeled everyone who agrees with me brilliant “a scientist” and everyone who disagrees with me either willfully ignorant, backward, living in fantasy, etc.

        • balconesfault

          I don’t have to rethink what I believe or re-examine it since I’ve labeled everyone who agrees with me brilliant “a scientist” and everyone who disagrees with me either willfully ignorant, backward, living in fantasy, etc.

          Actually, there’s a much simpler way to define a scientist. And it’s not based on any of the things you describe.

          Does the person utilize the scientific method when coming to conclusions? Does the person accept conclusions that are different from their beliefs/intuitions/preferences when those conclusions flow from results of using the scientific method?

    • Houndentenor

      I object to this usage of the word “believe”. I don’t “believe” in evolution. I have a (very) basic understanding of the science and accept that as the current explanation of how living things adapt to changes in their environment. (Too often evolution is confused with biogenesis. We understand how living things evolve. We don’t really understand how life began.) Science requires evidence and logic. It requires no faith on my part. It is true regardless of what I “accept” or “believe”. Darwin is not a prophet. He was a smart man who observed the world and drew some conclusions about how it works. The use of the word “belief” puts science on par with religion in which we are asked to accept things on faith rather than on evidence. It’s insulting to confuse the two, but I understand why fundamentalist Christianists want to make it sound as if they are the same.

      • Chris Balsz

        ” Science requires evidence and logic. It requires no faith on my part. It is true regardless of what I “accept” or “believe”. Darwin is not a prophet. He was a smart man who observed the world and drew some conclusions about how it works. The use of the word “belief” puts science on par with religion in which we are asked to accept things on faith rather than on evidence. It’s insulting to confuse the two, but I understand why fundamentalist Christianists want to make it sound as if they are the same.”

        Science is full of assumed deductions. For instance, anthropology is divided between people who assume there is a constant rate of mutations, which may be applied to hominid mutations, to determine the rate of dispersal of mutations in the population; and people who reject the assumption of any orderly rate of mutation, and assert the lack of any “genetic clock” to determine the origins of separate hominid species. And both assume that the hominid fossils we’ve encountered are an adequate sample for speculation, though it’s logically possible that they are not.

        Or in the case of global warming, since climate has failed to produce the straightline rise in temperatures predicted in the late 1990s, AGW is now about pollution trapping solar energy, which energy is not present solely as heat, and that energy in various forms alters “normal” climate. How solar energy disperses is not demonstrable at this point; AGW supporters say it will be explained at some point, given the presumption that pollution traps solar energy. Though it’s logically possible that it does not.

        A historian uses aerial radar to map the number of acres in cultivation around a medieval city. Using an estimate of city population, historians develop an estimate of crop yield per acre. This is a deduction. Other historians assume this ratio is applicable to other medieval cities and start calculating populations or agricultural acreage “scientifically”. Though it’s logically possible that they picked an abnormal site for their ratio, for reasons they haven’t explored yet.

        If logic and appreciation of fact were all that Science relied on, it would constantly have to admit it didn’t know which logical conclusion was valid, and didn’t know the means to invalidate logical possibilities until only one remained. Science instead tolerates a lot of guesswork.

    • Emma

      HereInVA writes “There’s numerous people with science degrees who debate and discuss creation / evolution.”

      Please name a few scientists with research publications in peer-reviewed journals such as Science or Nature who dispute evolution. Seriously, let’s have their names, the publication cites, etc.

  • HereInVA

    balconesfault — Thanks for the interesting definition. Do you think preconceptions, either from a theist, atheist, agnostic, naturalist, affect conclusions? If we come at information, scientific and otherwise, with a worldview, that can affect the conclusions we reach, correct? I’m wondering if that’s what you’re saying.

    Houndentenor — Aren’t there theories in science and interpretations in science based upon evidence (real or imagined, faulty or accurate, complete or partial, etc.)? Do scientists know, or make your best judgment based on information presented? If we are sure that we know certain things in science, how then do we find that actually, what we think we know is wrong? We believe we have enough information to make a conclusion. We believe the information points to a certain conclusion. I’m not sure how that degrades science. My understanding was that it reflects how science is practiced?

    • baw1064

      As a scientist, I will say the following:

      1) Everybody may have biases and preconceptions, but to be a good scientist, you’d better check yours at the door. You have to be willing to have your mind changed and your opinions overturned if that’s the way the evidence points. Nature always has the final word.

      2) I think you are playing with semantics a bit. Usually when a scientific theory that is supported by a significant amount of evidence is “overturned” that means that some situation is found where it doesn’t apply, or where other factors come into play. For example, Newtonian mechanics gives inaccurate predictions when you approach the speed of light, but it works just fine for flying a plane.

  • qubit2020

    Hereinva. – Have you ever studied science in general or evolution in particular?

  • HereInVA

    Emma — I’m curious as to the root of your question. Are you implying that only those who are published in Nature and Science are actual scientists? Maybe they need a degree from a certain place to be considered a scientist? Kurt Wise got a PhD from Harvard. Would that be acceptable? Is it that a degree from Harvard means someone’s ideas a right but a degree from Northwest Arkansas State means someone’s wrong, or are the ideas supposed to stand and fall on their own? We may give more credence to one or the other, but one isn’t true based solely on the source.

    Baw1064 — Your comment: “Nature always has the final word” could indicate that some biases and preconceptions aren’t, in fact, checked at the door.

    qubit2020 — What does what I’ve studied have to do with 1)the idea that ridiculing those who don’t accept your position as willfully ignorant doesn’t foster conversation, 2)the idea that it’s circular to say that to be a scientist, you believe in evolution, and we know evolution is true, because scientists believe it, and 3)the idea of Christians being against science somehow is a phony made up argument reflective more of some Christians not agreeing with certain scientific theories (how do we handle Christians who believe in evolution?), 4)the idea that some scientists start with the preconception that all things have a natural explanation, and formulate theories and hypothesis starting from that root worldview, 5)the idea that science is making a belief, opinion, hypothesis, estimate, rationalization based upon information gathered from a repeatable, testable, experiment.

    Moving from the ideas a person expresses to the person himself/herself is an attempt to avoid issues and is a distraction.

    • balconesfault

      Emma — I’m curious as to the root of your question. Are you implying that only those who are published in Nature and Science are actual scientists?

      Nature and Science were cited by Emma, no doubt, because they are peer-reviewed journals. One could argue that successfully publishing in a peer-reviewed journal of science is a pretty good calling card for a scientist, as is a doctorate in a field of natural science.

      That said, critiques/attacks on peer-reviewed climate science work certainly are deserving of more respect if they are similarly submitted to the peer-reviewed publications.

      One other note – it is completely possible for scientists – even very highly regarded scientists – to be in error. Regardless of past accomplishments or pedigree.

      Your comment: “Nature always has the final word” could indicate that some biases and preconceptions aren’t, in fact, checked at the door.

      lol – this tells us pretty much everything we need to know.

      You do believe in 4, right?

      • Chris Balsz

        Do you believe in the square root of -1?

        • balconesfault

          can I count out i objects? nope

          can I use i as a tool in solving certain types of mathematical and engineering calculations? yep

          Next?

        • baw1064

          of course, an engineer would say that it’s j, not i. ;)

          Of course it exists; “imaginary numbers” is just bad terminology. i (or j) is just as real (in the sense of existence) as 1. Numbers are a two dimensional plane, not a line.

  • qubit2020

    hereinva – Wow. Project much? All that from a simple question.
    I asked because I don’t think you have the slightest idea how scientific research actually works… I suggest you reread Baw1064.

  • HereInVA

    qubit2020 — It’s fine if you don’t want to deal with any of the points I’ve given and just critique me. Whatever works for you.

    balconesfault — re: lol – this tells us pretty much everything we need to know.
    You’re right. I’m not a naturalist. My worldview is different. My point primarily is that some come across saying it’s only Christians or anti-evolution people who have worldviews/preconceptions, and that it’s others who look at evidence from an open mind. I dispute that. I think both come with worldviews. The worldview discussion is something I’m still looking into, and is probably for another time/another place. Thanks for the dialogue.

  • balconesfault

    I’m not a naturalist. My worldview is different.

    Which ties back to my original point. It is impossible for a science teacher to educate someone who declares that they will not be persuaded by natural evidence. At a certain point they can only walk away.

    As for me, I’ll gladly take the medicines that were developed and tested and prescribed via scientific methods the next time I’m seriously ill … and will not oppose you relying on those remedies which were developed without the taint of naturalism.

  • baw1064

    I’m not sure I can really do the topic justice in a short post, but I’ll try.

    “Nature” as I used the term is really a shorthand for the physical world. I think to accept science, you do have to acknowledge that some objective reality exists independent of the thoughts/opinions/preferences of human beings. The Uncertainty Principle doesn’t really violate this assumption. It’s fairly involved to explain completely, but basically the UP simply says that the act of observing something can change it in a very precisely defined way. That’s not that same as saying it doesn’t exist apart from your observation.

    BTW, I don’t believe science is in any way incompatible with religion. I myself am religious. Really, science and religion are concerned with different questions. 1 Genesis says that God created the Universe, but doesn’t go into any technical details about what the Universe is like. If you are religious and believe that God created the Universe, it strikes me as somewhat bizarre to have no interest in what this place (that God created for you to live in) is like.

    Most scientific fields are concerned with some aspect of what the universe is like, but what it’s like is a different question than why it’s that way. People of different (or no) religous traditions can discuss e.g. the structure of DNA as an empirical entity, apart from the theological implications.

    I think what’s threatening to some people is that science requires you to be willing to change your mind in the face of convincing and credible evidence. A lot of people seem to be deeply uncomfortable with this.

  • HereInVA

    Balconesfault — and will not oppose you relying on those remedies which were developed without the taint of naturalism.

    A natural order to the world is different than thinking there’s solely a natural origin to the world. They’re not logically incompatible. Remember, some of us non naturalist think there is an intelligent design to the world that bespeaks order so we have no problem with natural remedies discovered and created. ;-) Christian Scientists are a denomination, and you can be a Christian Scientist theologically/academically without being a Christian Scientist denominationally.

    Balconesfault — It is impossible for a science teacher to educate someone who declares that they will not be persuaded by natural evidence.

    I may tweak that to say it’s impossible for a naturalist science teacher to educate someone as to the origins of the universe, who will not declare that they will adhere only to natural causation. Some scientists view the natural world as speaking of something/someone outside it that created it, designed it, ordered it, etc., etc. so they’re quite comfortable teaching people about the universe. Plenty of creationists are quite well versed at teaching people about the universe when they’re not teaching about that they think are its origins.

    ———————-

    Baw1064 — BTW, I don’t believe science is in any way incompatible with religion.
    – And neither do I.

    Baw1064 — If you are religious and believe that God created the Universe, it strikes me as somewhat bizarre to have no interest in what this place (that God created for you to live in) is like.
    – Agreed certainly, and thus I think some rise of environmentally conscious evangelicals. They believe God gave a command to care for the world, and that unfettered plundering of the earth’s resources, whether capitalist/socialist/communist etc, isn’t in line with Biblical mandates.

    There is no one unified “Christian” position on global warming. Some Christians may see it but ignore global warming. Some may disbelieve it’s real. Some may believe it’s real, but cyclical. Some may believe nothing man does causes it or can stop it, whether or not it’s cyclical. And yes some, sadly, may think the end of the world is coming so they shouldn’t care about today. “Christians” can’t all be lumped into the “they’re ignorant and unteachable because they don’t believe my position”.

  • baw1064

    HereinVA,

    We agree on quite a lot. I’ve always thought that people who claim that science and religion must necessarily be in conflict misunderstood one or the other (or perhaps, both).

    On global warming, I think that probably it is occurring, but that’s a personal guess, not a scientifically vetted statement. Certainly the theoretical basis is sound, CO2 absorbs infrared light, which changes the Earth’s radiation balance. Venus (thick CO2 atmosphere) is a lot hotter than Mercury, even though it’s further from the Sun. So, all other things being equal, more CO2 in the atmosphere will tend to produce a warmer climate.

    All other things are never equal, though. The major greenhouse gas is water vapor, whose concentration in the atmosphere is itself controlled by temperature. In other words, more water vapor -> more greenhouse effect -> warmer climate -> more water vapor. But more water vapor also produces more clouds, which reflects more sunlight back into space. It’s only because of a very delicate balancing of different factors that Earth even has a stable climate. Since we don’t have another planet to use as a control, it’s not at all easy to prove whether the apparent warming of the Earth over the last few decades is due to higher CO2, or something else.

  • David Lewis

    Where can I find something recent written by David Frum on climate change? I listened to the discussion on Point of Inquiry and heard nothing that indicated what he believed on that subject.

    Mooney started off the discussion with Frum and Silber by asking a broader question than “can conservatives and scientists get along?” He talked about a general tendency for delusion among conservatives:

    Mooney: “Are we right to perceive that there’s some sort of departure from reality, a lot of it on the political right, and if we are right to perceive it, what is causing it?”

    Frum addressed the general point with perhaps what seemed to him to be the most significant example: “I don’t think it was true a generation ago that the idea that nothing bad would come of it if you didn’t pay your debts would rise to the level of the leadership in both Houses of Congress.”

    So I don’t criticize Frum in what I write here for denying the basic issue. I am Canadian myself, I had great respect for the abilities of his mother Barbara, and when I moved to the US I paid attention to Frum partly because he is a fellow Canadian, but also because I found him to be the most reasonable conservative voice of his generation I have heard here in the US.

    But Mooney named his most significant example issue when it comes to delusion: “If there was one number one topic where we have a complete divide over reality between the two parties, and I would go further as to say one of the parties is right, its global warming.”

    And Frum steered as clear as he could of this topic.

    All Frum provided was his current idea of what conservatives could do to contribute to the global warming debate. But what he said could just as well have been taken from a list of climate science denier talking points.

    Going by the interview on Point of Inquiry, Frum believes conservatives have provided great service in the past serving to “check Liberal enthusiasms” such as standing in the way of people who wanted to set policy to address what was called in the 1960s the population explosion.

    (I might have asked him what about “conservative enthusiasms” such as telling the American people their armed forces would hit back at Al Qaeda by invading Iraq, but I wasn’t there….)

    Today’s “conservative scientific intellectual” according to Frum, would provide “a service” to the global warming debate by, if I understand his “population explosion” example correctly, standing in the way of doing anything in the same way Frum says conservatives stood in the way of committing resources to doing anything about global population. Frum said, about global warming: “do we KNOW that its going to be so bad, do we KNOW that its effects are going to be so large, are we quite sure some of its effects won’t be benign”, as if to say that standing in the way of everyone else taking action just in case doing nothing turns out to be the right thing to do, “is a classic role for the conservative policy intellectual”.

    That’s it for Frum in this interview on the subject of global warming. Any analyst of typical climate science denier talking points would be unable to distinguish Frum from, say, Lord Monckton, without more information.

    Had I been part of the conversation I might have pointed out that climate change is an aspect of the population problem that would now be a lot less worrying had something been done in the 1960s. Frum was careful with his phrases, asking if the 1960s population explosion was as bad as people thought, etc., but his drift seemed clear. It was a bogus “liberal enthusiasm” type issue, and we can see that now. Hail conservatives.

    I got involved in the population debate in the 1980s. It wasn’t quite the same thing as the 1960s, I’ll grant Frum that.

    What was obvious in the 1980s was that about one billion people were living fairly well in Japan, Europe and North America, and about 4 billion people were living on the rest of the planet at very low living standards. The 4 billion were increasing their numbers dramatically, the one billion were not. One UN plan to stabilize population was to somehow direct most economic growth to the 4 billion people because it was thought then that low living standards led to high population growth. It had been observed that poor people tried to have as many children as possible so enough children would survive to look after them in their old age. It had also been observed that the richer one billion people on Earth were having far less children to the point demographers predicted that the rich world population might decline. It was thought if living standards could be raised quickly enough in poor areas, given demographic reality and how fast economic growth could occur, global population might stabilize at ten billion. This plan was called Sustainable Development and was dismissed by conservatives as a load of UN BS.

    It turned out it didn’t matter if some UN Sustainable Development plan directed economic growth to a lot of the areas where those poor 4 billion lived. India and China are now expanding their economies at a breakneck pace. Government policy stopped population growth in China, education of women has had a great impact elsewhere, and the global population is headed toward possibly stabilizing at the ten billion order of magnitude.

    But the population problem is still with us and it is still very threatening. Threatening, that is, unless you are a denier of certain things.

    The projected nine or ten billion people will all want to live at the living standard as the 1980s one billion. Now I wouldn’t say it is impossible for nine or ten billion people to live well on Earth, but it is impossible if they act the way conservatives are acting now, i.e. by denying basic problems associated with the fact there are so many people, as they come up.

    Climate change is merely what looks like the first very big intractable problem of the wastes of civilization piling up threatening changes to basic things like where people can grow food and where they can live, that will be so rapid, that many wonder how civilization can survive.

    All civilization would have to do to limit the damage even now, is what the believers in the miracle power of market forces say will happen magically when the fossil fuels actually do run out, i.e. use something else instead, but no, the great believers in market forces say we’ve simply got to use all the fossil fuels up first, then we’ll let market forces magically create the next energy source for us.

    So we are going to find out what climate change can do to us.

    Every science academy in the world has signed on to a plea directed at the G8 calling for stabilizing the composition of the atmosphere as quickly as possible, by starting with eliminating 1/2 of global emissions by 2050. But Frum asks, do we KNOW things are going to be so bad, do we KNOW its effects are going to be so large, etc. I assume he does not understand that his “do we KNOW” questions amount to denying science. Its the leading figures in the most prestigious scientific institutions in the world, that’s China, Russia, the US, Japan, Germany, the UK, etc. They say we KNOW. We might as well shoot ourselves in the head if this is the best that today’s “conservative scientific intellectual” has for us.

    Perhaps Frum thinks a lot of issues have been taken up by the leading figures of science in the world, all getting their national science academies to sign on to pleas aimed at the global political leadership in this way, many times before, restrained by conservative scientific intellectuals no doubt, to the general good. Name one.

    Frum used to talk policy instead of what sounds like denial. He’d say Republicans should counter the Democratic Party’s “cap and trade” idea with a proposal to implement a carbon tax. Taxes have been so demonized our conservative scientific intellectuals can’t talk about them any more? Is doing something about waste piling up threatening us all just more of the “nanny state” at its worst?

    The root cause of climate change is too large of a population too stupid to understand that its top flight scientists aren’t making this up, i.e. that a waste product is piling up and something needs to be done. Frum tells us population is not the problem people thought it was in the sixties.

    It may not be the problem people thought it was in the sixties, but it is the problem people thought it was in the 1980s. Read “Our Common Future”, not for the UN BS prescription, but note the basic facts I outline above are there.